The first official integrated Ranger School class kicked off Monday — but the Army is refusing to say how many female soldiers are participating.

"We're ready to train whoever shows up here and whoever meets the standards," said Col. David Fivecoat, commander of the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade. "It doesn't matter to us who shows up here. If they can meet the standards, we're ready to train them and put them through Ranger School."

As many as 417 soldiers started the course; 300 remained after the first day's grueling Ranger Physical Assessment. Despite repeated requests, officials at Ranger School declined to provide gender statistics. The service has faced a high level of scrutiny from soldiers, service leaders and members of Congress since deciding to allow women to attend the school and earn the Ranger Tab.

"We need to move forward from this and execute what the Army has asked us to do — train Rangers," said Robert Purtiman, a spokesman for the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Georgia.

The Army previously released the number of women in Ranger School because the Army was conducting a gender-integrated assessment, Purtiman said. He added that the Army does not release by-gender numbers for students attending airborne school or the basic officer leadership course.

"Now the assessment is over, it is an integrated course," Purtiman said. "We're not making any delineation between male or female students. They're soldiers."

The Army's gender-integrated assessment of Ranger School kicked off in April, with 19 female soldiers starting the grueling course.

Three women graduated — Capt. Kristen Griest, 1st Lt. Shaye Haver and Maj. Lisa Jaster — and earned the coveted black and gold Ranger tab. The other 16 were, at different points, dropped from the course.

Critics of the Army's decision to open Ranger School to women — a school that until this year had only been open to men — have repeatedly bashed the effort online and in social media. Many have said the Army was relaxing its standards for the school or giving the female candidates an advantage by allowing them multiple attempts at the school's three phases.

Army officials have long insisted that the standards have not been changed in any way.

Army 1st Lt. Shaye Haver, center, and Capt. Kristen Griest, right, pose for photos with other female West Point alumni after an Army Ranger school graduation ceremon on Aug. 21 at Fort Benning, Ga. Haver and Griest became the first female graduates of the Army's rigorous Ranger School, putting a spotlight on the debate over women in combat.

Photo Credit: John Bazemore/AP

The Army in September announced that Ranger School is now open to all qualified soldiers, regardless of gender.

A decision is still pending on whether the Army will open its infantry, armor and special operations ranks to women. Senior Army leaders have submitted their recommendation to the Defense Department; a decision isn't expected until the end of the year.

The Army has already opened its combat engineer and field artillery military occupational specialties to women.

Ranger School is the Army's premier combat leadership course, teaching students how to overcome fatigue, hunger and stress to lead soldiers in small-unit combat operations. It is separate from the 75th Ranger Regiment.

Soldiers who have earned Ranger Tabs, male or female, are not automatically part of the regiment, which has its own requirements and assessment process.

The Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade runs 11 Ranger School classes a year, and "it's been business as usual," Fivecoat said.

"We're ready to train whoever shows up," he said.

The brigade also is still looking for qualified female captains and sergeants first class interested in serving as observer/advisors at Ranger School.

Soldiers selected for the positions will serve alongside the Ranger instructors, but they will not grade students. Instead, they will be extra eyes and ears and a sounding board for the all-male Ranger instructor cadre.

Successful applicants will be assigned to the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade for two years beginning Jan. 1.

An initial call-out for applicants allowed the ARTB to fill about half of the nine positions it needs, Fivecoat said.

"We're still looking for a few more, so if anyone is interested in helping out, please send your packet as soon as possible," he said.

For the integrated Ranger class currently underway, the ARTB was able to extend some of the observer/adviseors who were originally selected for the gender-integrated assessment, Fivecoat said.

Soldiers negotiate the Darby Queen obstacle course on April 26 during the Ranger Course on Fort Benning, Ga.

Photo Credit: Spc. Nikayla Shodeen/Army

Here's what the ARTB is looking for:

• ARTB is authorized to select four captains and five sergeants first class to serve as non-grading cadre.

• Selected soldiers will serve from Jan. 1, 2016, through Dec. 31, 2018. They will receive permanent change of station orders for Fort Benning, Georgia.

• Female officer applicants must be captains in year groups 2007-2009. Applicants must have completed the required time in a key development position accordance with Army PAM 600-3, which governs commissioned officer professional development and career management.

War-zone experience is preferred. Applicants also must have met the standard for the Army Physical Fitness Excellence Badge during their last three rating periods, and they cannot have a physically limiting profile.

• Female noncommissioned officer applicants must be sergeants first class. They must have at least two years time in grade and have completed time in a key position required for promotion to master sergeant.

War-zone and drill sergeant experience are preferred. They must have received an "excellence" block check for physical fitness and military bearing on their last three NCO evaluation reports and have met the standard for the Army Physical Fitness Excellence Badge during their last three rating periods. Applicants cannot have a physically limiting profile.

Applicants must submit their completed packets to the ARTB personnel section as soon as possible. Packets should be scanned as one PDF file and contain these documents:

• Officer or enlisted record brief with Department of the Army photo.

• Last three officer or NCO evaluation reports.

• Most recent Army Physical Fitness Test scorecard and supporting body fat content worksheet, if applicable.

• Letter of intent addressed to Fivecoat expressing the applicant's reasons for seeking the assignment.

• Letters of recommendation from the applicant's current rater and senior rater. Additional letters of recommendation may be included.

Applicants will be screened by ARTB and Human Resources Command.

Michelle Tan is the editor of Army Times and Air Force Times. She has covered the military for Military Times since 2005, and has embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Haiti, Gabon and the Horn of Africa.

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